Missoula Police praise Olympics security
Missoula Police praise Olympics security

POLSON - Spider-Man was crouching in a tiny workshop above Tradewinds Realty in Polson this week, ready to spring into action at Marvel Comics headquarters in New York City, once his flamingo-pink polyurethane body is reinforced with fiberglass and spruced up with a good coat of paint.

Spider-Man's nemesis, Doc Oct, more formally known as Dr. Octopus, left Polson just last week. His creator bolted him on a pallet, boxed him unceremoniously with cardboard and loaded him on freight truck bound for the same destination in New York, where the two will be installed in the lobby of the comic-book headquarters.

These three-dimensional, life-size renditions of comic super hero Spider-Man and super villain Doc Oct were fabricated by commercial artist Rob Gunderson, 29, a Polson native who has returned to Polson temporarily to practice his arcane profession of creating almost anything you can imagine.

Three-dimensional billboards, museum displays, theme park statuary, stage show, advertising or motion picture props, 3-D renditions of a football team mascot - you name it, draw it, or at least describe it, and Gunderson will fabricate it, somehow, and come in on or under budget and on time.

"Really, there's not anything I can't make," Gunderson said during an interview and sculpture demonstration in his temporary workshop in Polson where he was sculpting Spider-Man. Tools for this job were fairly simple - a small chain saw for roughing out the figure from a polyurethane block, a buck knife for carving and slicing, a Surform tool and riffler file for detail work, a couple of paint brushes, a gallon can of contact cement and Bondo - fiberglass used as auto body filler - and a hose and fitting attached to an air compressor to keep the dust at bay.

But welding, carpentry, electric wiring (many models use fiber-optic lighting for special effects), sewing, spray-booth painting, clay modeling, sculpture and a variety of other skills also are useful in the various projects he's worked on over the years.

After graduating from Polson High School in 1991, Gunderson spent two years in the Navy. In high school he was fascinated by building things, including a detailed wooden model of a covered wagon for a history class project. (Gunderson's parents, Bob and Karen, both teach in the Polson School District, and have many of his early creations at their home.)

After his "naval" period, Gunderson decided to study industrial design.

He used his G.I. Bill money to enroll in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating in two years at the top of his class with a technical degree. He was hired by Paramount Parks Inc. as production supervisor. Paramount Parks operates five theme parks in the Eastern Seaboard, and contracts many commercial art projects.

Two years later he joined Studio Displays Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., a full-line commercial art shop as art director. He was responsible for bidding, designing, fabricating and installing three-dimensional products all over the East Coast. (Spider-Man and Doc Oct were done under contract with Studio Displays, he said.)

Gunderson returned to Polson in December, with plans to open his own commercial studio.

"Originally, I wanted to go to California and do movie stuff. But I decided I didn't want to live in California," he said.

He plans to open his business in Missoula, perhaps specializing in museum display work. He considered Polson - "I could do this kind of work just about anywhere," he said - but decided on Missoula because of its better air-freight connections.

Gunderson said he is not cut out to be a serious "fine-art" sculptor; his work is way too accessible, and besides, he has a practical bent.

"I'm not into modern art. I'm into the commercial aspect. There's more money making museum exhibits' than in 'serious' art," he said.

Naturally, he likes to get paid for what he does, even if he is doing it in western Montana, which some folks complain is so remote from major markets and so tax-challenged that new, innovative businesses won't move here.

"People might think I'm crazy opening a shop in Montana. But I could do this anywhere. All I need is a phone and a Web page," he said.

That's all he needs for marketing, of course. For production, he'll be looking to rent or lease some 4,000 square feet of studio or warehouse space in the Missoula area when he opens his business, Imagination Inc., a move that is pending approval of a $50,000 small-business loan.

"I've been doing this for years for other people for a wage. I can do everything involved from start to finish, so it is time for me to step out on my own," Gunderson said.

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